Scotland is in danger of creating a postcode lottery when it comes to education, with a wide gulf between the highest and lowest-achieving students in schools.
A “considerable gap” has also formed between the achievements of school pupils in Scotland and those in the top-performing countries worldwide, according to a report carried out by Audit Scotland for the Accounts Commission.
The study into pupil achievement found students’ performance varied depending on factors including council areas, the individual schools and differing socio-economic status.
Politicians called for action to ensure schools across the country give children an equal chance, no matter where they are living.
East Renfrewshire’s students perform the best, with more than 70 per cent of S4 students gaining five awards at level five, compared with fewer than 30 per cent in Dundee, the worst-performing area.
“If this gap in performance is not significantly reduced, it is going to continue to cause a number of social and economic problems in the future,” said Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon.
“There is a danger a postcode lottery in pupil attainment will be created here, while our global competitors have addressed their problems and raced ahead.”
International comparisons show the academic performance of Scotland’s pupils in recent years is static after a period of relative decline, although Scotland’s performance since 2006 has been similar to England’s and Northern Ireland’s in most areas and better than Wales’.
The report found other countries, such as Poland, had continued to improve in recent years compared with Scotland.
“Overall, there is a considerable gap between Scotland and the top-performing countries,” said the report. “It is important Scotland is able to keep pace with the best-performing countries if it is to compete effectively in the global economy.”
The highest performers in S4 in Scotland’s schools had an average “tariff” score five times that of “looked-after” children staying at home, with Asian- Chinese children ranking top.
Accounts Commission chair Douglas Sinclair said: “Councils need to fully understand what interventions are the most effective and tailor resources to meet their local needs. It is vital that councils close the gap between the lowest and highest-performing pupils.”
Overall performance levels are better in all ten attainment measures examined by the report over the last decade – but experts warned existing measures do not fully capture a child’s performance throughout their time at school, with nothing in place to compare pupils from P1 to S3.
Spend per pupil varies widely across the country, with rural councils spending the most. Across Scotland, spending on school education fell by 5 per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2012-13 to £3.8 billion – mainly as a result of employing fewer staff.
In urban councils, the amount spent varied from £4,782 in Renfrewshire to £5,899 in West Dunbartonshire – a £1,117 difference – while island council expenditure ranged from £9,005 in Orkney to £10,821 in the Shetland Islands.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome this report which finds that educational attainment in Scotland has improved.”
The report found that councils which have made the most improvements have focused on areas such as developing leadership skills and improving teacher quality.